By Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun
5:14 PM EDT, September 1, 2012
As the giant silver bell of a bugle reflected City Dock, the man who suggested The World Championships of Drum Corps move to Annapolis considered the impact beyond an estimated $10 million and 13,000 visitors.
"How big a deal is it? It's important enough to bring a corps back from the grave," said Jeff Weir, director of the Naval Academy's Drum & Bugle Corps.
"If the World Championships are in your backyard," Weir said, "Well, it's almost like having the Super Bowl in Baltimore."
For the first this time weekend, legions of sharply dressed precision performers with horns and drums, along with flag twirlers and saber tossers, have convened in Annapolis for an event enthusiasts described as part fierce competition, part reunion. Before it even began, the World Championships of Drum Corps resurrected the memories and inspired a future of Maryland teams that had abandoned dreams of competition.
The state doesn't have a single competitive drum corps left. The aging members of the last one long ago set aside the about-faces, clicked heels and marching that mark the paramilitary tradition. The Yankee Rebels disbanded two years ago, but this championship invigorated their desire to pull out the horns again.
"We want to represent the state of Maryland," said Yankee Rebels director Phil Gentile, 71, who started playing with the corps as an 11-year-old boy. "It's a hobby that's in your blood. It's just like you're a baseball player or a football player. Once it's in your blood, you never want to quit."
The Yankee Rebels formed in 1942, one of thousands of drum corps across the country created by churches, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and community groups. Some were devised by adults to keep youngsters out of trouble, others by children looking to connect with fathers off at war and others simply as a competitive musical club.
The Yankee Rebels' 70-year tradition eventually moved to a Dundalk VFW, where the corps played concerts when enough members showed up. Until the World Championships moved from Rochester, N.Y., to Annapolis, the Yankee Rebels believed they had turned in their snares for good.
"We got on a bus every Saturday and drove 10 hours so we could put on an 11-minute show, and drive 10 hours back," said Larry Bourne, president of the Yankee Rebels Alumni Club. "It's a tremendous amount of work, especially if you are in the competing corps."
The Yankee Rebels will be the only home-state performers at the four-day, 48th Annual World Championships of Drum Corps held through Sunday at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Teams from the United States, Canada and England rolled into town in buses and haulers earlier this week, spreading out in Annapolis' tourist vistas in City Dock to practice formations, run through scales or put on a rendition of "Jesus Christ Superstar" at a Thursday night exhibition.
The rebels don't pretend to compete with the other 35 teams, many with 150 members, some of whom line up for individual face-offs of saber twirlers or bugle soloists. The Yankee Rebels, Gentile said, are happy to play a 20-minute concert during Sunday morning's "Alumni Spectacular" show.
Enthusiasts say today's drum corps have become expensive, weekend-warrior enterprises that retain only a few features from their roots.
"Funding these things is insane," said Allen Buell, vice president of Drum Corps Associates. "On an average weekend, it costs $10,000-$15,000 to move a corps."
Arrangements have become more elaborate, competitions more far-flung. The reigning champs from Minnesota, Buell said, have a bugler that can hear a popular song on the radio and translate it into a bugle corps arrangement — a skill that saves them a lot of money from hiring a composer.
The more costly enterprise, however, has also turned the championships into sought-after events for economic organizations. Tickets cost as much as $80 for Sunday's finale, and the roughly 5,000 performers bring with them 8,000 spectators, Buell said.
Adding the hotel rooms, the restaurant visits and travel plans, Buell's organization estimates more than $10 million will be pumped into the Annapolis economy.
The local tourist board called the World Championships the biggest event ever brought to Annapolis.
"It's pretty safe to say that nearly every hotel in the county is booked," said Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Visitors Bureau. "We have nearly 11,000 hotel rooms, so that's a lot."
The city created a special bus route to serve the event this weekend. Yet for all the fanfare, the two bugle corps based in Annapolis are not participating. The academy's bugle corps is in Ireland with the football team. The other, the Annapolis Drum & Bugle Corps, was founded four years ago and is still struggling to re-create a corps remembered by its leader, Robert Beans, 71.
As a child in the early 1950s, Beans belonged to the Annapolitans, one of Annapolis' three drum corps. Beans said every neighborhood kid's parents would threaten to ground a child from drum corps as a motivation to finish homework or start chores.
Even then, he said, the corps scraped together old military equipment to outfit themselves, spray painting visors from World War I helmets white, picking up old shirts from the Naval Academy and stitching their own yellow stripe down black pants to create uniforms.
The group he founded in 2008 uses horns first lent out by the academy in the mid-1980s. The corps, formed largely from children in Annapolis' public housing complexes, has musicians from 5 years old to 80. They've done a few parades, but Beans sees the World Championships as a crucial turning point.
It's difficult to explain to children why they can't drop their horns an inch if a fly lands on their nose or why each step must be executed with precision, he said. There weren't any groups for the Annapolis corps to watch and learn, he said, until the World Championship came to town.
"Now they get a chance to see through their eyes what we're trying to get them to perform," Beans said. "It's just like Christmas for us."
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